Flexible working: creating a culture of good work-life balance

Stempra recently examined work-life balance for people working in communications through a discussion hosted by the Academy. Melanie, Communications Officer at the Academy, provides an overview of the advice and tips from the event about how to ask for and manage flexible working. 

“My manager sent an email about wellbeing at 11pm at night…” Top tips for managers:

  • Model the behaviour you want to see – people will copy you. If you don’t take holiday or don’t leave on time, your team won’t either.
  • Have open and clear expectations: advertise flexible working when hiring, talk about it with your team, be clear about only expecting email responses in working hours.
  • Beware presenteeism – people who are ‘visibly’ responding out of hours sometimes get more credit and opportunities, even though being present doesn’t equal being productive.
  • Ask how people are doing. Find out about their wellbeing, and be aware that flexibility is vital for some people in enabling them to manage their health.
  • Trust people – don’t say no to flexible working until you’ve tried it.

“I can pretty much do my job in bed – and I do.” Top tips for flexible working:

  • You don’t have to wait until you need flexible working – it’s OK to ask just because you want it. Panel members wished they’d asked earlier in their career so they could have learnt more about their own best ways of working.
  • Flexible working isn’t just for people with caring responsibilities.
  • Being efficient and knowing how you work is particularly important for freelancers. The UK Freelance Ready Reckoner (used by many freelancers for setting day rates) assumes freelancers are about three times more efficient than normal staff.
  • If you’re dealing with ill health, know what you need and ask for it. Panel members observed things got easier once they could be open about ill health, as their colleagues could help identify their red flags and support them.
  • Accept the things you can’t change. To help switch off from an ‘always on’ culture, be open about what is out of your control: say that you’re sorry, you can’t help, and let it go.

“Hours are nine to half five…” Negotiating flexible working with a reluctant employer:

  • Just because an organisation has set hours and a flexible working policy doesn’t mean they allow their staff to leave on time… Ask around before accepting a job to find out what the work culture is really like.
  • Your strongest time to negotiate is after being offered a job, but before saying yes.
  • Make a business case:
    • Use the evidence. Flexibility increases productivity and creativity.
    • Think about how the skills or connections you bring from outside work could benefit your organisation.

“My connections through volunteering at IntoUniversity has helped us diversify our work experience – the benefits of flexible working cut both ways.”

  • Use your organisation’s existing policies on diversity, inclusion and flexible working to help make your case.
  • Try proposing flexible working as an experiment: have a trial period with a time limit, state how you will measure success and determine points to review.
  • Use your relationship with your manager: ‘organisations’ don’t care for you, but people do.
  • If they say no, wait, then ask again.
  • Be flexible! Sometimes you need to spring into action late at night or very early in the morning – understand the trade-offs of your role and what you are or are not willing to accept.
  • You will always find another job, so if you really want something be prepared to walk away. For instance, a panel member recalled asking for a sabbatical year:

“I thought ‘I’m going to do this’ – if they give me a year off, that’s great, and if they don’t that’s fine too and I’ll just leave and find something when I come back.” (They said yes.)

  • Find internal or external champions at your manager’s level and use them push back – publicly praise what they do and privately ask them to support you.
  • Get lots of staff to raise it on staff satisfaction surveys, or use staff forums.


Stempra, an informal network for people working in science communication, recently examined work-life balance and flexible working through a lunchtime panel discussion hosted by the Academy of Medical Sciences. The Academy was pleased to support this event as part of our MedSciLife campaign to promote diverse working practices.

IntoUniversity is a charity supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter higher education. For more information about offering work experience placements through IntoUniversity contact rebecca.kendall@intouniversity.org 

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